WELCOME, COLLEGE STUDENTS! If you've just moved to our city, here's something you should be pleased to learn about your new home: "Savannah is arguably the state's most bike friendly city" and has one of Georgia's "largest and most diverse" bicycle cultures. That's according to a leading bicycle expert, who I did not pay to say that.
Savannah earned Bicycle Friendly Community status from the League of American Bicyclists last year and is becoming one of the Southeast’s best bicycling cities. If you like using bikes for transportation or recreation or both, you are in the right place at the right time.
Before you take to the streets, however, here are some things you need to know.
• Your bicycle will be stolen. Unless you are extremely cautious and obsessively consistent about how and where you lock it. Trying to decide between a U-lock and a cable lock? Get both. Heed the words of Sheldon Brown (1944-2008) the Yoda of bicycle wisdom:
“If you use both the U-lock and the cable lock ... you are more than twice as safe as you would be with either of them alone. Either type of lock can be defeated, but each requires a different large, bulky tool, which is useless against the other.”
It’s also important to lock to something that cannot be moved. Don’t hitch your ride to wooden porch or stair railings, which can be easily broken or sawed through.
Locking to a street sign? First make sure it’s firmly anchored to the Earth’s core. If you can store your bike inside, that’s the best option. Next best are bike racks.
• You are not riding a bike. You are driving it. In Georgia bicycles are considered vehicles and people who ride them must comply with traffic regulations. That means stopping at stop signs and traffic signals. That means riding with the flow of traffic, not against it. Maybe your hometown has some of those awesome two-way cycle tracks. Congratulations! We don’t have those here yet. That means the Lincoln Street bike lane is for northbound traffic only and the Price Street bike lane is exclusively for riding south.
Georgia law requires you to use a white front light and a red rear reflector after dark. Buy a red rear light, too. The cost of both lights will be much less than the moving violation or medical bills you could be stuck with if you are not visible at night.
• You also need to be aware of and obey an unusual local law. An area in Forsyth Park, beginning north of the Confederate monument and ending south of the fountain, was many years ago designated as a “pedestrian zone” by city ordinance. People are supposed to walk their bikes through this area, but few do because it is wide enough to be safely shared by people on bikes and people on foot. The area functions quite well as a multiuse path so the ordinance was rarely enforced.
By the time you read this, however, vigorous enforcement may be underway, even against those traveling at slow speeds on bikes and politely sharing the space. Some people do ride their bikes too fast and they are appropriate targets for enforcement. As it stands now, though, if you’re on a bike you’ll be treated as a menace, no matter how cautious and courteous you are.
People ride bikes in this area of the park because there are no safe alternatives. The sidewalk around the perimeter is narrower than the thoroughfare in the center and mixes people on bikes in with ear-budded runners, increasing the risk of collisions.
The streets adjacent to the park, Whitaker and Drayton, are dangerous for bicycling because they are configured to maximize motor vehicle speed and volume. Cars and trucks commonly exceed the 30 mph speed limit and often make sudden lane changes.
An easy fix based on the pedestrian zone enforcement model would require all drivers, even those driving carefully, to get out and push their cars past the park.
There are more reasonable solutions. Other cities have addressed similar problems with protected bike lanes, traffic calming features and other street design modifications that improve safety for everyone. That’s what we should be doing.
• You won’t be in Savannah long. But four (or five) years is plenty of time to make a difference by helping to resolve situations like the one described above. Even if you plan to move away immediately after graduation, you can make Savannah better for bicycling while you are here by joining the Savannah Bicycle Campaign. Who knows, you might even want to stick around to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
John Bennett is executive director of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign. Find them at bicyclecampaign.org